November 13, 2005

Figure skating-Turin goal for Pang and Tong

By Joel Kirkhart

BEIJING (Reuters) - Emerging from the shadow of their
better-known compatriots, figure skating pair Pang Qing and
Tong Jian had their chance this month to show the Russians that
China would be a threat on the ice at the Turin Olympics.

It did not go as planned.

Pang and Tong unveiled their Olympic-year program at the
Cup of China earlier this month, in the absence of twice world
champions Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo.

With Turin just months away, they had hoped to make a big

"We always used to play supporting roles, but here (at the
Cup of China) we were suddenly put in the lead," Tong said.

The pair, however, struggled on their jumps, including a
triple Salchow they had been developing. First place went to
world silver medallists Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov of
Russia and the Chinese had to be content with silver.

Pang, 25, said their new long program, set to Andrew Lloyd
Webber's "The Music of the Night" from the "Phantom of the
Opera," had the technical difficulty to match their Russian

"At the start of the season, we wanted to give the audience
and the judges a feeling of 'boom'; to show them that we not
only have an impressive new program, but we also have made a
lot of technical improvements," said Tong, 26.

"Now everyone's seen the new program but we made mistakes
with our technical content and did not show a big change.
That's a real shame."


Shen and Zhao had long been China's top pair, winning the
world title in 2002 and 2003, but they pulled out of the March
world championships in Moscow at the last minute because Zhao
had a foot injury.

Zhao snapped his Achilles tendon in training in August and
the pair missed the China Cup in Beijing.

The new injury threw his participation at the February
10-26 Winter Olympics into doubt but Tong said his compatriot's
recovery was going well and Zhao and Shen would likely take the
ice at the Olympics.

"It will be a battle between Russia and China," Tong said.

Russia's dominance on the Olympic ice is hard to break. In
the pairs, Russia and its Soviet and post-Soviet predecessors
have won pairs gold medals at every Winter Games since
Innsbruck in 1964.

Only at Salt Lake City in 2002 did another nation intrude
and that happened after Canadian runners-up Jamie Sale and
David Pelletier were awarded duplicate gold medals in the event
won by Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze after a judging

Pang said she and Tong often practiced in Beijing with Zhao
and Shen and China's third team in the Olympic pairs
competition, Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao.

"We're working with our coach on our jumps so that we can
perform them well at competitions before the Olympics and then
be more confident at the Olympics," Tong said.


The pair, both natives of Harbin in far northeast China, a
city known for its cold weather, winter ice festival and
Russian influence, have been skating together for 12 years.

"At the last Olympics, we got ninth place. Afterwards, we
set our minds to getting a medal four years later," Tong said.

They had a strong year in 2004, winning the Four Continents
and taking bronze at the world championships, where Shen and
Zhao took the silver.

Then they seemed to plateau, settling for fourth at the
2005 worlds and remaining China's number three pair behind the

Pang and Tong readily acknowledge that they will have to
dig deep to finish in the top three in Turin, especially in the
long program in which Tong is meant to portray the Phantom from
the musical and Pang his beloved Christine.

"We need to bring what we have inside to the outside. It
used to be we were externally good -- our skating was pretty,
but it didn't really connect with the music," Tong said.

"Now we need some more time to meld with the music, to get
closer to the music, so the audience and the judges won't see
two skaters, they will see the characters brought to life."